Movies often feed on real-life tragedy, so famous crimes have long been natural film fodder. But few movies based on true crimes and criminals rise above the level of transient sensationalism. Here are five (all available on video) that do.
*BONNIE AND CLYDE Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were early media antiheroes, and while this Arthur Penn film sometimes romanticizes their lethal career, starting with the casting of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, its audacious juxtaposition of slapstick and horrifying brutality is devastating.
*IN COLD BLOOD This searing study (directed by Richard Brooks) of two drifters who murdered the Clutter family in 1959 was based on Truman Capote’s book and filmed on locations in Kansas. Bleak and somber, it features an eerie performance by Robert Blake as self-mythologizing killer Perry Smith.
*DOG DAY AFTERNOON Director Sidney Lumet vividly captures the urgencies of New York City in this compelling tale of what should have been just an ordinary bank job. As the sympathetic schnook who hatched the misguided scheme to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change, Al Pacino gives one of his most wired, charismatic performances.
*THE THIN BLUE LINE It started with the murder of a Dallas policeman, but a perhaps more shocking crime took place when innocent drifter Randall Dale Adams was framed and sentenced to death. The film by Errol Morris mixes conventional documentary methods with aggressively stylized technique to explore a story of injustice and plain bad luck. It’s as gripping as fiction and helped win Adams his freedom.
*REVERSAL OF FORTUNE Did he or didn’t he? This equivocal account of lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s appeal in the Claus von Bülow case — in which the dashing aristocrat (Jeremy Irons’ portrayal won him an Oscar) was accused of attempting to murder his wife — brilliantly posits different points of view in a narrative rich with suspense, surprise, and queasy humor.